By guest blogger Alison Blackman
Headbone connects to the neckbone. Neckbone connects to the armbone. Armbone connects to the handbone. Handbone connects to the internet. Connected to the Google, connected to the government. Thus begins the rap by Mathangi Arulpragasam, a British rapper better known as M.I.A. The rap was the opening track on the 2010 album, Maya and was written by Steven Loveridge, and Sugu Arulpragasam.
Google is synonymous with information search. Although there are other web search engines, no one “Bings” or “Yahoos” they “Google.”
Since many Google searches will yield thousands if not millions of results, Google orders them based upon two major criteria: Relevance and referral. Relevance has to do with whether a page’s contents are most on topic. Referral has to do with the same concept as citations do in an academic paper. That is, if other users link to an article, it must have relevance, therefore, the earliest it would list in the search results.
Search engines like Google have implemented safeguards to maintain the integrity of the rankings. However, as many organizations and politicians have shown, the company has also employed practices that have helped to promote ideas and candidates that are important to Google decision-makers, while hiding those that are not.
Congress and the media have examined the political influence of search engines like Google, but only the European Union has done much on the anti-trust and anti-competitive activities that can also be hidden in the rankings. While the company’s services are provided to consumers for free, since Google is the primary way to access the content on the Internet, it is also a public utility, and as such should treat all users equally. But that is not what it does.
In effect, Google can promote sites not only due to relevance and referral, but also based on how profitable they are for the company itself. Sites that use Google ads, or that pay additional fees are ranked higher than others. In effect, Google can use its dominant position in search, to encourage companies to advertise. Google can use the same tools to relegate bloggers and web site owners who do not advertise, to lower positions in the search.
By promoting certain sites over others, Google’s policies have encouraged much of the web community into no longer linking other sites. This means that smaller companies are not getting their proper search ranking, and stores which provide products that do not advertise with Google, especially specialty products, remain lost in the clutter of the internet.
In addition, Google “delists” sites that have what it deems to have too many links to individual products and companies, and also requires that all website links conform to its own non-standard format. This ensures that no website can link to companies and services without going through Google’s own advertising. The search engine also penalizes sites that link to charities, non-profits, companies, or even politicians that it does not agree with, or that don’t pay for advertising. By forcing websites to delete direct links to companies and services, the search engine can effectively cloak any company, opinion, organization or site.
Furthermore, once delisted or deemed “unsafe or unsuitable” Google will ban a website indefinitely, and since Google is the primary source of internet information, being delisted or branded as unsuitable for viewing online can destroy the on-line reputation of a company, a blogger, or an individual.
In our connected world, Google is now a utility that is required to negotiate the internet. It may not be acting in a traditionally monopolistic manner (since it is free to consumers), but websites that don’t comply with the message, that the headbone connects to Google simply disappear from view.